Oscars 2018: Lady Bird and the hype machine — How excessive buildup spoilt Greta Gerwig's coming-of-age charmer

Utkarsh Srivastava

Mar,04 2018 17:42:42 IST

This article contains spoilers and is best read after watching Lady Bird.

Never have I walked into a theatre wanting to love a movie more.

Never have I walked out of one so crushingly underwhelmed.

Lady Bird checks a lot of boxes. It is a coming-of-age story (check). It stars an actress who had two Oscar nominations by the time she turned 21 (double check). And would you believe it? It didn’t have a male director trying to tell a female protagonist’s story (triple, quadruple and quintuple check).

Saoirse Ronan in a still from Lady Bird

Saoirse Ronan in a still from Lady Bird

A few years ago, this movie would have died on the indie scene and would have been watched only by those who pondered the dynamics of the Noah Baumbach-Greta Gerwig collaboration. But we live in a different world now: one which is a touch more appreciative of women and is determined to avoid another Crash-like scenario by feverishly looking to give non-commercial cinema its due.

Lady Bird got its US release in December last year but it had been wowing people at major film festivals since September. For a long time, it held a 100 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, a streak broken only by a blogger writing for his own website. It gained credence as much by word-of-mouth as by actual near-unanimous critical acclaim. Add to this, the multiple Oscar nominations and it was part of pop culture canon even before it was released everywhere.

A movie with no real flaws

The movie starts with the now-iconic scene of Lady Bird ending an argument with her mother by falling out of a running car. The story then goes along at a breezy pace as Lady Bird does typically teenager things (fights with her mother, falls in love, changes best friends) while chasing her dream of going to a college on the East Coast. It is paced extremely well as Gerwig doesn’t let us dwell on anything for too long. From magnificent performances by Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf to the subtle humour to the neat ending, this is a movie with no real flaws.

Unfortunately it has no real earth-shattering moments either. And while that is completely fine in the context of the story, when you’ve walked in ready for it to become your favourite movie of all time, 'fine' doesn’t quite cut it. With the media overload and the hype machine working overtime, this movie needed to make me cry, laugh and stay in the theatre in contemplation for half an hour after it ended. And as anyone who has seen it will attest, this is simply not a movie like that. It is more the gentle waves lapping at your feet than the giant ten-footer knocking you down.

It is perhaps a tad unfair to judge Lady Bird not simply on its own but in view of the circumstances around it. However, it is context which has resulted in it (along with Get Out and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) becoming the big successes that they have. So it would actually be unfair to look at these movies in isolation.

I would have loved to have discovered Lady Bird on my own or after it being recommended by like one person. Watching it without the spectacle and the hoopla would have been truly amazing. For Lady Bird is part of a group of films that should be called Netflix films: to be watched not in theatres whilst imbibing the emotions of others, but in a cosy setting on a rainy Sunday.

Alas, the hype machine makes it all impossible. Before I went in to see the movie, I had seen the opening scene some eight times, knew Ronan and Gerwig's entire filmographies, had listened to podcasts about the film and heard piracy-favouring friends rave about it. This was of course a result of the phenomenon of Hollywood movies reaching India months after their release (Get Out is yet to release in India over a year after its US release).

So much for an interconnected globalised world.

The weight of the hype

Both Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf deliver magnificent performances in Lady Bird

Both Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf deliver magnificent performances in Lady Bird

The hype machine feeds off itself and that means the race to watch the hottest new thing in town is always on. It works well for thrillers and horror movies and big-ticket dramas, as the visual experience means you are never quite ready for what you get, despite all the buzz around it. But for a primarily story-driven movie like Lady Bird, with no over-the-top performances and no major plot twists, the weight of the hype simply kills it.

It is a movie so many of us would have loved had it not been force-fed to us. There is no good solution to this of course. For it is the hype around the film that made sure that it didn’t slip off the radar of the masses. It is the hype which ensured that Indians thronged to theatres to watch this coming-of-age story of a girl from Sacramento, California.

And sadly, for some of us, it is the hype which took away the joy from a movie we really would have loved. Perhaps a few years down the line, we will sit down with a hot chocolate on a rainy Sunday and let it wash upon us, and it will be a serene and enjoyable experience.

Until then, however, we curse the hype machine and carry on.

Published Date: Mar 04, 2018 17:42 PM | Updated Date: Mar 04, 2018 17:42 PM